Gingrich: Obama plays a weak hand

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Newt Gingrich says the President could stir up the party’s base by focusing on inequality but that may hurt Democrats with independent voters


Boy missing after crocodile attack

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A 12-year-old boy is missing after being snatched by a crocodile in a remote part of the Australian Outback, authorities said Monday.


BLAMING AMERICA? Karzai reportedly suspects US hand in Afghan attacks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly believes that the U.S. government and military have been a hidden force behind recent insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, such as an attack earlier this month that killed 21 people, including three Americans, in Kabul. 

The Washington Post, citing an Afghan official who it said was sympathetic to Karzai’s view, reported that the Afghan leader believes that dozens of attacks blamed on the Taliban have been planned by the U.S. to weaken his government and foment instability in the country. The official did acknowledge that Karzai had no concrete evidence of American involvement in any attack.

The report is another sign of the deepening rift between the U.S. and Karzai, who has continued to refuse to sign a tentative security agreement allowing for American troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014, preferring to leave the issue for his successor following Afghanistan’s April presidential election. 

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham told the Post that Karzai’s reported suspicions represented “a deeply conspiratorial view that’s divorced from reality … It flies in the face of logic and morality to think that we would aid the enemy we’re trying to defeat.”

Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan added, “We have spent 12 years trying to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan in the face of threats from terrorist and insurgent networks . . . to suggest otherwise does a grave disservice to those who have sacrificed for the people of Afghanistan.”

According to the Afghan official quoted by the Post, Karzai’s theory is based on suspicions that the attacks are intended to draw attention away from civilian casualties caused by U.S. airstrikes. In addition, the official contends that attacks like that on the Kabul restaurant were “too sophisticated to be the handiwork” of the Taliban. 

For their part, the Taliban have rejected any possibility of the U.S. playing a role in their attacks, with spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid telling the Post, “Whatever claims [of responsibility] we make, those are attacks that have genuinely been carried out by our forces.”

Click for more from The Washington Post


STATE OF THE UNION Many promises, mixed results in prior speeches


FILE:Jan. 23, 2014: President Obama in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.AP

President Obama will announce a host of proposals to reshape America in his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday. But if past is prologue, only a handful of them will come close to execution.

From repeated calls to lower the corporate tax rate to last year’s declaration that the “time has come” to pass immigration reform, Obama’s State of the Union vows frequently have either run into congressional gridlock or been drowned out by other priorities.

This year’s laundry list of promises is expected to focus on addressing “income inequality” and other economic issues. Obama will try to forge ahead with a few holdovers while quietly dropping several initiatives touted in his 2013 speech.

One item prominent in last year’s address, which came on the heels of the Newtown school shooting, was a pitch for tighter gun control. Though Obama may revisit it in Tuesday’s address, the push largely has been dropped after an intense but ultimately failed effort to get legislation passed on Capitol Hill.

Tax and entitlement reform also were big agenda items in last year’s State of the Union address, but have lately fallen by the wayside — considering White House officials who spent the weekend previewing the address did not mention them as a priority.

Obama, instead, will for the third straight year make the major theme of his address economic opportunity and bridging the income inequality gap for the poor and middle class.

However, he appears likely to make a subtle shift, focusing more on worker protections and job training than job creation. The White House says Obama will announce that he will sign an executive order increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 for new federal contracts. 

The initiative dovetails with Obama’s broader call for an increase to the federal minimum wage, something he also touched on last year. 

“Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour,” the president said to applause in his 2013 address. 

However, the White House is now backing a congressional Democratic plan to increase the federal wage to $10.10 over three years, then indexing it to inflation. 

Senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer told “Fox News Sunday” that Obama will try to “restore opportunity” through a series of proposals including ones on job training, education and manufacturing.

He also pointed out that Obama’s effort to create 15 manufacturing hubs across the country has had some success, despite Congress rejecting his proposal, and remains a work in progress — with four complete, two in place and two “in the pipeline.”

Amid the apparent shift, Oklahoma GOP Rep. James Lankford is questioning whether Obama really intended to follows through on all of his 2013 plans.

“I don’t think he ever intended to achieve tax and entitlement reform,” Lankford, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, told on Monday. “That was pure rhetoric. The shift is really from Americans saying, ‘This is a nice guy but we don’t think he can lead.’ He’s lost their trust.”

His comments follows Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz saying Sunday that the president’s existing economic policies are “not working” and “exacerbating” income equality.

Cruz, whose effort last year to defund ObamaCare fueled a partial government shutdown, is also calling on the president to announce new investigations into the fatal Benghazi attacks and the IRS scandal and to admit his economic program has failed — and that passing ObamaCare on a party-line vote was a mistake.

“I would expect … he would call for some accountability now [on Benghazi], that he would join me and 24 other senators who have called for a joint select committee to get some answers,” Cruz told Fox News on Monday.

The president is also expected to renew his push for free pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds and comprehensive immigration reform, which if passed would almost certainly become a hallmark of his presidency. Both those initiatives were also featured in Obama’s 2013 address.

The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill last summer. But the Republican-controlled House has not, largely because the chamber’s conservative wing has so far argued that granting citizenship to some of the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants is tantamount to “amnesty.”

House leaders reportedly will release a broad plan this week, but the White House has reserved comment until it is made public.

“We think it is progress that the Republicans are going to put something forward,” Pfeiffer also told “Fox News Sunday.” “Let’s see what they put forward and hopefully we can come together and make progress.”


State of the Union 2014: How far will Obama go? – Politico

It’s been the main White House talking point all year: If Congress can’t get its act together and pass legislation, President Barack Obama will do what he can on his own.

The State of the Union address Tuesday night will reveal whether Obama is serious about testing the limits of his executive powers or content with using them as a threat.

The president has typically positioned himself as a consensus builder and tried repeatedly to find middle ground with Republicans, with little success.

(WATCH: POLITICO’s issue-by-issue SOTU preview)

On a range of domestic policy issues important to Democrats, Obama needs to decide how far he’ll go, whether it’s using his executive powers or his political capital in a high-stakes election year.

Here are five issues to watch:

1. Executive actions: real or hype?

The West Wing insists Obama is ready to use his unilateral authority to an extent that hasn’t been seen in the past, perhaps on infrastructure, the minimum wage, climate change and education.

It remains uncertain how substantive he can be. White House officials have long said that executive actions are no replacement for passing bills through Congress because acting alone will always provide more limited relief.

Officials have been trying to straddle the line between ruling out Congress altogether and holding out hope that lawmakers will do more than they have over the last year.

(WATCH: Obama at the State of the Union over the years)

“He’s an American citizen, and it stands to reason that he might be frustrated with Congress, since most American citizens are,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday.

“That doesn’t mean that we can’t get things done with Congress,” Carney added. “He’s also very optimistic.”

2. Play it safe on immigration

The guiding principle on immigration reform: Do no harm.

The White House appears set in its strategy of maximizing its options within Congress. Immigration reform advocates say White House officials have told them Obama won’t threaten to take unilateral action to cut back detentions and deportation — at least not yet. They remain optimistic that House Republican leaders still want to act on immigration, providing a sliver of hope that Obama can accomplish something big in a year of low expectations of Capitol Hill.

The last thing Obama will want to do is antagonize Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is expected to release an outline of immigration principles to his caucus this week — a step that signals a level of seriousness that didn’t seem possible only a few months ago. If the president were to attack Republicans for not doing anything sooner or threaten to use his executive powers if they fail to act, Obama could risk a backlash.

(POLITICO Magazine: The State of the Union curse)

That means the message Tuesday is likely to echo last year’s State of the Union address: Illustrate the urgency to deal with the issue. Talk up the economic benefits. Applaud bipartisan efforts to come up with a solution.

“We are looking for quality, not quantity when it comes to immigration,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “When we are this close to a bipartisan breakthrough, tone really matters.”

3. Minimum wage, maximum politics

Ask progressives what they want to hear from the president, and one initiative, in particular, gets mentioned more than others: an executive order raising the minimum wage for government contractors.

Obama called on Congress during last year’s State of the Union address to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9, which would be the first increase since 2009. He’s since endorsed a Democratic plan that would raise it to $10.10.

The issue polls well. Surveys released this month by CBS News, Quinnipiac University and the Pew Research Center/USA Today found that three-quarters of Americans support the wage hike. Given its popularity, Obama may first want to see whether he can convince Congress to pass legislation that could benefit as many as 28 million workers before acting on his own to help 2 million contractors.

This may be one of many areas in which Obama could perform a two-step: Demand that lawmakers deal with it and pledge to act on his own if they don’t.

Fifteen senators, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and a group of House members, led by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), sent letters to the president urging him to exercise his executive authority.

Obama will have to balance how much further he wants to go in advancing the issue and energizing his base against the damage he could do to red-state Democrats — particularly in Senate races where the party’s on defense — by appearing to go too far.

4. Washington’s deficit gap

Obama gave prime real estate during his past State of the Union speeches to deficit reduction and entitlement reform.

Don’t expect the same treatment Tuesday.

Some Senate Democrats who attended a White House meeting with the president this month assume that he’ll tout how the deficit has been cut in half since 2009, from $1.4 trillion to $680 billion. Obama complained to the caucus that he hasn’t received enough credit for the savings achieved so far.

The issue for Democrats isn’t whether Obama will propose some type of executive action, it’s whether — or how far — Obama will go in reaching out to Republicans, particularly on entitlement reform.

The president has shown more willingness than many in his party to trim Medicare benefits by moving to a less generous inflation calculator. Will he renew the offer?

Some vulnerable Democratic incumbents, who view the issue as a political loser, would prefer that Obama drop his push for entitlement changes or at least downplay it heading into the midterm elections.

After all, Democrats argue, voters have always cared more jobs and the economy. A new Pew Research Center survey found that for the first time in Obama’s five years in office, “deficit reduction has slipped as a policy priority among the public.”

5. No hit-and-run on health care

Obama may actually dwell a little longer on Obamacare this year than he has in the past.

The speech is coming at the right time for the White House. is largely fixed for consumers. The administration sacked CGI, the contractor that botched the website. Three million Americans have selected private health insurance plans, with millions more expected by the March 31 deadline.

Senior Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill say they don’t view Obamacare as the political liability that Republicans believe it to be. The West Wing wants Democrats to embrace the issue, not shy away from it.

A good indicator of the White House’s sincerity will be the strength of the president’s Obamacare defense Tuesday. Obama will have to strike a positive tone about the law without sounding as though he’s declaring “mission accomplished,” because there is still a lot of work to do.

The age mix isn’t right yet, with too many older adults and not enough younger ones. The early sign-ups in the exchanges may not include a lot of actual uninsured people, although some have probably been added through Medicaid. Insurers are still waiting for the “back end” of the website, the part that handles their payments, to be built.

Health care didn’t occupy a lot of time in Obama’s three State of the Union addresses since the law was signed. In 2011, Obama acknowledged that the new House Republican majority hated the law, said it can always be improved but vowed never to go back to the days when insurance companies could turn people down because of pre-existing conditions. In 2012 and 2013, Obamacare got a couple of quick sentences, and that was it.

The goal this year is simple: Tout the successes, acknowledge the work that still needs to be done, and energize the base without losing credibility with the rest of the country.

Reid Epstein and David Nather contributed to this report.


Ukraine PM Azarov offers to resign ‘to help end conflict’ – Reuters

Tue Jan 28, 2014 3:46pm IST

* Azarov has been loyal lieutenant since Yanukovich elected

* But Yanukovich, beset by crisis, offered his job to

* Azarov move came as parliament held emergency meeting on

* Ukraine convulsed by street protests for two months

By Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets

KIEV, Jan 28 (Reuters) – Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola
Azarov offered his resignation to President Viktor Yanukovich on
Tuesday, saying he hoped his departure would help towards a
peaceful settlement to two months of unrest which has convulsed
the former Soviet republic.

The 66-year-old Azarov announced his decision as parliament
met for an emergency session to work out possible concessions to
the opposition to end street protests in the capital Kiev and in
other cities in which six people have been killed.

Azarov, a loyal lieutenant of Yanukovich since the latter
was elected to power in February 2010, said he was offering to
step down “with the aim of creating extra means for finding a
social-political compromise, for the sake of a peaceful
settlement of the conflict.”

But in reality he has been publicly humiliated by
Yanukovich’s offer at the weekend to give his job to former
economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, one of the opposition
leaders, in an effort to stem the rising protests against his

The opposition has been calling consistently for the
resignation of the Azarov government since the onset of the
crisis. But opposition leaders have shied away from the offer of
top government posts by Yanukovich, seeing it as a trap intended
to compromise them in front of their supporters on the streets.

Yatsenyuk, one of a “troika” of opposition leaders, formally
turned down the offer of the top government job on Monday night
and the question now was whether Yanukovich would accept
Azarov’s departure or not.

Azarov has steered the heavily indebted economy through hard
times over four years, keeping the national currency tightly
pegged to the dollar and refusing International Monetary Fund
pressure to raise gas prices at home.

He backed the decision in November to walk away from a free
trade agreement with the European Union – the move which sparked
the mass street protests – and it was Azarov who took the heat
in parliament, defending the need for closer economic ties with
Russia in a stormy debate with the opposition.


Parliament went into emergency session on Tuesday with
ministers loyal to Yanukovich saying they would press for a
state of emergency to be declared if the opposition leaders did
not rein in protesters and end occupation of municipal and
government buildings across the country.

Opposition leaders, who include boxer-turned-politician
Vitaly Klitschko and nationalist Oleh Tyahnibok, are also
pressing for the repeal of sweeping anti-protest laws rammed
through parliament by Yanukovich loyalists on January 16.

A government reshuffle had also been slated for discussion
at the emergency session but it was not clear now how this would
proceed given Azarov’s resignation offer.

Another battle lies ahead over protesters detained during
the unrest. The Yanukovich side said these would be pardoned,
but only once protesters had ended their occupation of public
buildings and blockade of roads.

The parliamentary session observed a moment of silence in
respect of those who had been killed in the wave of unrest and
parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak then announced a recess.

Talk of a state of emergency being declared in the former
Soviet republic of 46 million made the European Union’s foreign
policy chief, Catherine Ashton, hastily move up a visit to Kiev
on Tuesday.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Yanukovich on Monday to
urge the government not to declare a state of emergency and to
work with the opposition to bring a peaceful end to unrest.

“(Biden) underscored that the U.S. condemns the use of
violence by any side, and warned that declaring a State of
Emergency or enacting other harsh security measures would
further inflame the situation and close the space for a peaceful
resolution,” the White House said.

Though the protest movement began because of Yanukovich’s
U-turn on policy towards Europe, it has since turned into a mass
demonstration, punctuated by clashes with police, against
perceived misrule and corruption under Yanukovich’s leadership.

Several hundred people camp round-the-clock on Kiev’s
Independence Square and along an adjoining thoroughfare, while
more radical protesters confront police lines at Dynamo football
stadium some distance away.

Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions and its allies hold a
majority in the Ukrainian parliament but in reality pressure
from the president and his aides behind the scenes can easily
swing a vote the way he wants it to go.


Folk singer, activist Pete Seeger dies in NY – Wall Street Journal

    Associated Press

NEW YORK — Buoyed by his characteristically soaring spirit, the surging crowd around him and a pair of canes, Pete Seeger walked through the streets of Manhattan leading an Occupy Movement protest in 2011.

Though he would later admit the attention embarrassed him, the moment brought back many feelings and memories as he instructed yet another generation of young people how to effect change through song and determination — as he had done over the last seven decades as a history-sifting singer and ever-so-gentle rabble-rouser.

“Be wary of great leaders,” he told The Associated Press two days after the march. “Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”

The banjo-picking troubadour who sang for migrant workers, college students and star-struck presidents in a career that introduced generations of Americans to their folk music heritage died Monday at the age of 94. Seeger’s grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, said his grandfather died peacefully in his sleep around 9:30 p.m. at New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he had been for six days. Family members were with him.

“He was chopping wood 10 days ago,” Cahill-Jackson recalled.

With his lanky frame, use-worn banjo and full white beard, Seeger was an iconic figure in folk music who outlived his peers. He performed with the great minstrel Woody Guthrie in his younger days and wrote or co-wrote “If I Had a Hammer,” ”Turn, Turn, Turn,” ”Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.” He lent his voice against Hitler and nuclear power. A cheerful warrior, he typically delivered his broadsides with an affable air and his fingers poised over the strings of his banjo.

In 2011, the canes kept Seeger from carrying his beloved instrument while he walked nearly 2 miles with hundreds of protesters swirling around him holding signs and guitars. With a simple gesture — extending his friendship — Seeger gave the protesters and even their opponents a moment of brotherhood the short-lived movement sorely needed.

When a policeman approached, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger said at the time he feared his grandfather would be hassled.

“He reached out and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you, thank you, this is beautiful,’” Rodriguez-Seeger said. “That really did it for me. The cops recognized what we were about. They wanted to help our march. They actually wanted to protect our march because they saw something beautiful. It’s very hard to be anti-something beautiful.”

That was a message Seeger spread his entire life.

With The Weavers, a quartet organized in 1948, Seeger helped set the stage for a national folk revival. The group — Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman — churned out hit recordings of “Goodnight Irene,” ”Tzena, Tzena” and “On Top of Old Smokey.”

Seeger also was credited with popularizing “We Shall Overcome,” which he printed in his publication “People’s Song” in 1948. He later said his only contribution to the anthem of the civil rights movement was changing the second word from “will” to “shall,” which he said “opens up the mouth better.”

“Every kid who ever sat around a campfire singing an old song is indebted in some way to Pete Seeger,” Arlo Guthrie once said.

His musical career was always braided tightly with his political activism, in which he advocated for causes ranging from civil rights to the cleanup of his beloved Hudson River. Seeger said he left the Communist Party around 1950 and later renounced it. But the association dogged him for years.

He was kept off commercial television for more than a decade after tangling with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. Repeatedly pressed by the committee to reveal whether he had sung for Communists, Seeger responded sharply: “I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American.”

He was charged with contempt of Congress, but the sentence was overturned on appeal.

Seeger called the 1950s, years when he was denied broadcast exposure, the high point of his career. He was on the road touring college campuses, spreading the music he, Guthrie, Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and others had created or preserved.

“The most important job I did was go from college to college to college to college, one after the other, usually small ones,” he told The Associated Press in 2006. ” … And I showed the kids there’s a lot of great music in this country they never played on the radio.”

His scheduled return to commercial network television on the highly rated Smothers Brothers variety show in 1967 was hailed as a nail in the coffin of the blacklist. But CBS cut out his Vietnam protest song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” and Seeger accused the network of censorship.

He finally got to sing it five months later in a stirring return appearance, although one station, in Detroit, cut the song’s last stanza: “Now every time I read the papers/That old feelin’ comes on/We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on.”

Seeger’s output included dozens of albums and single records for adults and children.

He appeared in the movies “To Hear My Banjo Play” in 1946 and “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon” in 1970. A reunion concert of the original Weavers in 1980 was filmed as a documentary titled “Wasn’t That a Time.”

By the 1990s, no longer a party member but still styling himself a communist with a small C, Seeger was heaped with national honors.

Official Washington sang along — the audience must sing was the rule at a Seeger concert — when it lionized him at the Kennedy Center in 1994. President Bill Clinton hailed him as “an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them.”

Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as an early influence. Ten years later, Bruce Springsteen honored him with “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” a rollicking reinterpretation of songs sung by Seeger. While pleased with the album, Seeger said he wished it was “more serious.” A 2009 concert at Madison Square Garden to mark Seeger’s 90th birthday featured Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder and Emmylou Harris among the performers.

Seeger was a 2014 Grammy Awards nominee in the Best Spoken Word category, which Stephen Colbert won.

Seeger’s sometimes ambivalent relationship with rock was most famously on display when Dylan “went electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

Witnesses say Seeger became furious backstage as the amped-up band played, though just how furious is debated. Seeger dismissed the legendary tale that he looked for an ax to cut Dylan’s sound cable, and said his objection was not to the type of music but only that the guitar mix was so loud you couldn’t hear Dylan’s words.

Seeger maintained his reedy 6-foot-2 frame into old age, though he wore a hearing aid and conceded that his voice was pretty much shot. He relied on his audiences to make up for his diminished voice, feeding his listeners the lines and letting them sing out.

“I can’t sing much,” he said. “I used to sing high and low. Now I have a growl somewhere in between.”

Nonetheless, in 1997 he won a Grammy for best traditional folk album, “Pete.”

Seeger was born in New York City on May 3, 1919, into an artistic family whose roots traced to religious dissenters of colonial America. His mother, Constance, played violin and taught; his father, Charles, a musicologist, was a consultant to the Resettlement Administration, which gave artists work during the Depression. His uncle Alan Seeger, the poet, wrote “I Have a Rendezvous With Death.”

Pete Seeger said he fell in love with folk music when he was 16, at a music festival in North Carolina in 1935. His half-brother, Mike Seeger, and half-sister, Peggy Seeger, also became noted performers.

He learned the five-string banjo, an instrument he rescued from obscurity and played the rest of his life in a long-necked version of his own design. On the skin of Seeger’s banjo was the phrase, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender” — a nod to his old pal Guthrie, who emblazoned his guitar with “This machine kills fascists.”

Dropping out of Harvard in 1938 after two years as a disillusioned sociology major, he hit the road, picking up folk tunes as he hitchhiked or hopped freights.

“The sociology professor said, ‘Don’t think that you can change the world. The only thing you can do is study it,’” Seeger said in October 2011.

In 1940, with Guthrie and others, he was part of the Almanac Singers and performed benefits for disaster relief and other causes.

He and Guthrie also toured migrant camps and union halls. He sang on overseas radio broadcasts for the Office of War Information early in World War II. In the Army, he spent 3½ years in Special Services, entertaining soldiers in the South Pacific, and made corporal.

He married Toshi Seeger on July 20, 1943. The couple built their cabin in Beacon after World War II and stayed on the high spot of land by the Hudson River for the rest of their lives together. The couple raised three children. Toshi Seeger died in July at age 91.

The Hudson River was a particular concern of Seeger’s. He took the sloop Clearwater, built by volunteers in 1969, up and down the Hudson, singing to raise money to clean the water and fight polluters.

He also offered his voice in opposition to racism and the death penalty. He got himself jailed for five days for blocking traffic in Albany in 1988 in support of Tawana Brawley, a black teenager whose claim of having been raped by white men was later discredited. He continued to take part in peace protests during the war in iraq, and he continued to lend his name to causes.

“Can’t prove a damn thing, but I look upon myself as old grandpa,” Seeger told the AP in 2008 when asked to reflect on his legacy. “There’s not dozens of people now doing what I try to do, not hundreds, but literally thousands. … The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place.”


Associated Press writer John Rogers in Los Angeles and Mary Esch in Saratoga Springs in contributed to this report.

—Copyright 2014 Associated Press


Florida, San Diego St. move into poll’s top 5

Updated: January 27, 2014, 5:31 PM ET news services

Arizona and Syracuse are 1-2 in The Associated Press poll for the eighth consecutive week.

The Wildcats (20-0) are again a runaway No. 1, receiving 63 first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel. The Orange (19-0) got the other No. 1 votes.

Their eight straight weeks as a one-two punch is still a month from matching the record. UCLA and Marquette were 1-2 for 12 consecutive weeks in 1971-72.

The current streak is the longest since the first eight weeks of the 2008-09 season, but both UNC and UConn lost the following week and dropped out of the top two spots.

This was Arizona’s 37th week ever as the No. 1 team in the AP poll, tying Ohio State for eighth place on the all-time list.

Florida jumped from sixth to third, while Wichita State (21-0), the other undefeated Division I team, moved up one spot to fourth.

San Diego State and Kansas both moved up two places to fifth and sixth.

They were followed by Michigan State, which dropped from third, Oklahoma State, Villanova and Michigan

Michigan jumped from No. 21 to 10th with an impressive streak of its own against ranked teams. The Wolverines have won three straight games against top-10 teams — Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State.

Creighton moved back into the rankings at No. 20 following its 96-68 thrashing of then-No. 4 Villanova last week. The Bluejays have been ranked a total of four weeks this season and never for more than two straight weeks.

At No. 25, Texas moved into the poll for the first time since 2010-11, a season in which the Longhorns were in the final 17 polls and reached as high as No. 3.

Texas will play its fourth consecutive game against an AP Top 25 opponent when it hosts No. 8 Kansas on Saturday, the first time in program history the Longhorns have played four straight games against Top 25 teams.

Texas has beaten three straight ranked opponents — Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor — in as many games for the first time in school history. Texas won four straight games against ranked opponents during 2010-11, but that came during a five-game span.

Kansas also had a four-game winning streak over ranked opponents — Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor — that ended when the Jayhawks beat TCU.

Texas moving into the Top 25 also means that seven of the 10 Big 12 teams have been ranked at one point in the season. The record for ranked teams from one conference in a season is 10 by the 16-team Big East in 2010-11.

But two Big 12 teams dropped out of the rankings this week. Kansas State fell from 22nd after losses to Texas and Iowa State, the Wildcats’ first time losing consecutive games since November.

Baylor dropped out from 24th, the Bears’ first time out of the rankings this season. The Bears were No. 25 in the preseason poll and got as high as No. 7 before their current four-game losing streak to Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.

Among games between two ranked teams this week, No. 17 Duke visits No. 18 Pittsburgh on Monday and then travels to No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday.

Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas all have two double-ranked games this week, a problem you face when half your conference is in the Top 25.

No. 23 Oklahoma hosts No. 8 Oklahoma State on Monday, and the Sooners are at No. 16 Iowa State on Saturday. The Cyclones’ other game against a ranked team is Wednesday at No. 6 Kansas. The Jayhawks’ other ranked game is Saturday at No. 25 Texas.

The other double-ranked games are No. 7 Michigan State at No. 15 Iowa, No. 13 Cincinnati at No. 12 Louisville and No. 24 Ohio State at No. 14 Wisconsin.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Carroll: NFL should consider medicinal pot

Updated: January 27, 2014, 4:55 PM ET

Dan Graziano

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll agrees with the notion that the NFL should look into medicinal marijuana as a means of taking the best possible care of its players.

While not explicitly coming out in favor of it, Carroll answered a question about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s recent comments on the topic by making it clear he thinks it’s an avenue worth pursuing.

“I would say that we have to explore and find ways to make our game a better game and take care of our players in whatever way possible,” Carroll said at a news conference Monday following his team’s first practice of Super Bowl week. “Regardless of what other stigmas might be involved, we have to do this because the world of medicine is doing this.”

Medicinal marijuana is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Washington is one of those states. Colorado and Washington recently legalized marijuana for recreational use.

That this season’s AFC Championship Game was played in Denver brought the issue to the forefront of the NFL news cycle, and Goodell said last week that the league could look into allowing medical marijuana if science showed it could be used to treat concussions.

“We will follow medicine, and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that,” he said at a news conference last week in New York. “Our medical experts are not saying that right now.”

Marijuana remains on the NFL’s banned substances list, and two members of the Seahawks secondary — cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond — have served drug suspensions this season. Browner’s suspension is ongoing.

Removing marijuana from the league’s banned substance list likely would be difficult because the federal government and interstate commerce laws still consider it illegal and prohibit it from being transported across state lines.

  • Joined ESPN in 2011
  • New Jersey native and author of two published novels


European shares drop after fears of crisis in emerging markets

European stock markets posted fresh losses on Monday, with London leading the way, as fears of an emerging markets crisis continued to alarm investors and sent shares sliding in Asia overnight.

Shares were also hit by predictions that the US Federal Reserve would trim its bond-buying stimulus programme on Wednesday, despite recent market volatility, and concerns over the strength of China’s economy.

In London, the FTSE 100 fell by 1.7%, shedding 113 points by the end of the day to 6550, as the sell-off that began last week continued.

Other European indices fluctuated, but mainly finished in the red, with the FTSEurofirst index of major companies finishing down 0.9%.

The FTSE’s sharp decline was exacerbated by gas producer BG Group tumbling 13.7% after problems in Egypt and the US forced it to lower its forecasts, while Vodafone shed 3.8% after US rival AT&T said it had no immediate plans to launch a takeover.

The biggest losses were seen in Japan, where the Nikkei fell 2.5% as a bout of nervous selling gripped Asia. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 2%.

Emerging markets also suffered, with India’s Sensex falling by 2%. Wall Street opened slightly higher, after a heavy sell-off on Friday night.

“A combination of factors has caused markets to squirm, including the contraction in Chinese growth last week and the expectation of further cuts in the FOMC’s [Federal Reserve's] debt-purchasing scheme later this week,” said Toby Morris of CMC Markets. The Fed will decide on Wednesday whether to “taper” its stimulus programme, and could reduce it by $10bn (£6bn) to $65bn (£39bn) per month.

Stephen Lewis, analyst at Monument Securities, warned that there is deep uncertainty over the outlook for 2014, despite top policymakers indicating they were guardedly optimistic for prospects over the next 12 months.

“Emerging economies could suffer a financial shock if advanced-country investors withdraw the capital they have invested, largely profitably, over recent years,” Lewis warned. “There is potential for a vicious circle in which foreign investors’ taking profits undermines financial stability, damages economic prospects and prompts yet more investors to flee.”

There was volatility in the currency markets too, where Turkey’s lira hit fresh lows before rebounding after its central bank announced it would meet on Tuesdayevening. Traders believe it could raise borrowing costs in an attempt to stem the lira’s steady decline, despite prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan opposing any interest rate rises.

Emerging markets have been under pressure since Argentina’s peso suffered its biggest fall since 2002 after as its government gave up its attempts to support the currency.

Mike Ingram, market strategist at BGC Partners, said markets appeared to have been “truly taken by surprise” by the fears over emerging markets, despite a previous market wobble last summer when the Fed came close to slowing its stimulus package.

“The problems in emerging markets run the gamut from political instability (eg Egypt), corruption (eg Russia); current account vulnerability (eg India); commodity exposure (eg Brazil) and discredited central banks (eg Turkey),” Ingram wrote to clients.

Middle East